April 8, 2021
COVID-19 and travel at SEA Airport
Our Frontline Fridays series features Port employees whose hard work and dedication keeps our facilities running safely during challenging times.
Today we check in with three customer service all-stars who roam the airport terminals and work behind the screens to make our passengers’ travel experience a little easier. Meet the friendly faces responding to your social media inquiries, emails, and in-person questions to help you travel safely and efficiently at SEA as we all navigate the airport’s new normal. Whether you’re looking for the Lost and Found, wondering about new travel requirements, or looking for the best place to grab a preflight latte, this team is here for you.
I started working as a Pathfinder at SEA in 2017 and moved to a fulltime position in June 2019. Pathfinders’ role is to help and direct travelers by providing customer service, answering questions, providing directions, and directing travelers to the fastest checkpoint. Look for us in green shirts in the terminal, or at the Customer Service Desk near Security Checkpoint 3.
I like that I get to help passengers and clear up any confusion they might have. Some passengers have never been to SEA or have never flown before. They arrive at the airport flustered and sometimes just don’t know what to do — I help get them where they need to go. Staying at home all the time doesn’t get my brain working. When I’m at the airport, I feel like I am being productive and I am helping. I like that there is always someone who needs my help.
I went from answering 100 million questions a day, to less than 100. Normally we are approached by passengers who need help. Because there are fewer passengers coming in we roam around and find passengers who might look lost rather than people coming up to us. We have also reduced our staffing shifts due to the reduction in passengers. I also telework twice a week to reduce the chances of being exposed to COVID-19. When I’m working at home, I take care of customer service training with my coworkers.
We wear face coverings and gloves and that helps me feel a little more secure. We have queue set ups at the checkpoints that we set up six feet apart, and I practice physical distancing while I’m working. Our Customer Service desk has stanchions in front of it to help people keep their distance. Sometimes I am the only Pathfinder out on the floor but my managers are always checking in on me to make sure I’m safe. It makes me feel less alone.
I’m looking forward to the airport getting busy again. I work in customer service for a reason. I am excited to feel productive and useful helping passengers navigate the airport.
On a normal day, we log onto social media and respond to customer questions and comments and reply to any customer emails. We also work with subject matter experts at the airport for help answering customer questions and creating customer-focused content that helps them navigate the terminal. If one person is asking a question, then others are likely thinking the same thing.
Everything was really elevated. We were responding to questions with one topic on people’s minds — anything and everything COVID related. The number of emails and social media questions we receive have definitely gone down since the pandemic first hit. At one point, every time we sent an email replying to a customer, two more emails came in — we couldn’t get our inbox down to zero.
At the time, we didn’t have all the answers because the situation was changing so quickly. If we didn’t know the answer, we’d talk to subject matter experts or do our own research and pass along the information to passengers. We were trying to make sense of something that didn’t have any rules yet. We tried to provide useful information to give people facts so they could feel more reassured. Many were concerned about themselves or family members. Some were stuck away from their family and trying to go back home. People were stressed out but were also understanding for the most part. Everyone knows the aviation industry has been hit really hard by this and that everyone is doing their best during this time.
It really depends if we’re on social media, responding to an email, or talking on the phone. It’s harder to show compassion on a limited platform, like Twitter (with a 280-character limit). We try to give as much information as possible in the space we are given, and show compassion or understanding. One lady wrote that she was pregnant and stuck in Europe. She was trying to get back to Seattle and didn’t want to be separated from her family. We couldn’t change her situation, but we could provide her with information and say “I hope this helps.” I’ve noticed people have been saying “thank you” a lot more. There’s a sense that we are all in this together. To help keep our customers informed we work closely with a variety of partners, including Port Health and Safety and Emergency Preparedness departments, janitorial staff, Airport Dining and Retail, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), Transportation Security Authority (TSA), King County Public Health, Center for Disease Control, and other external partners as well. Because of this, it may take a little while to get answers to your questions, but we will get them!
It’s very rewarding to leave at the end of day knowing you helped one person. Travel can be extremely stressful for people, and if we can offer reassurance and help make someone’s experience easier, it’s worth it. We want to be a resource for people and provide useful information on our website, so they won’t be scared and panicky the whole time, and know they don’t have to be afraid of traveling. We work with so many of our partners to help provide information that helps our customers. It can make a big difference in people’s travel experience. I received the nicest email from someone thanking me for my response and remembered that I had also provided her with helpful information in the past. How you treat others can make a lasting impact.
Brooke and I both have journalism backgrounds, so we are used to being ready to drop everything and say “this is what we are doing now.” When I was working at my college newspaper, we were working on the layout for the print edition that was set to publish the next day, when we found out a fellow student had been murdered. Our entire issue was planned and we had to start over. It was difficult because this was a loss in our community and we were part of that community and that loss too. We wanted to reassure students about their safety, help people talk about what happened, and memorialize the student. It really showed the value of sharing information and news and keeping people informed. In an emergency you’re in the fight or flight zone. You’ll do whatever you can to make it happen.
Simply put, we are here to keep travelers informed. We answer traveler questions and try to go over and above in making their experience at SEA easier, from offering dining suggestions to giving directions around the terminal. With COVID-19, we keep the SEA App and website updated with any impacts a traveler may experience at the airport.
Even the simplest customer question can be COVID-related, whether it’s a question about parking, bathrooms, restaurants, cleanliness at the airport, or deciding whether to travel. It has really impacted every step of the traveling process. Questions regarding travel change every day as the COVID situation evolves. The airport is already a fast-paced environment and now it‘s elevated by a million.
We’d try to ease customer concerns and answer questions by showing everything the airport has been doing to help customers stay safe, like sharing cleaning procedures that are in place or pointing to our map of hand sanitizer locations throughout the airport. It really takes everyone working together to understand this new climate and we’re all doing our part.
I think quick response times have been beneficial to the travelers who reach out to us. Some questions are time-sensitive and people want to be prepared before their trip so responding quickly and genuinely helps ease travelers’ anxiety our during the pandemic.
We are a point of information to people. We’re helping someone or sometimes putting a rumor to rest. The airport has global impacts, but we're also a part of the local community. I like being able to make people’s travel a little less stressful. Whether someone lost a bag or wants to know what to expect when traveling, we can help ease tensions by providing information.
I came to the Port from KIRO 7. When I was at KIRO I got to work on some crazy stories and shared need-to-know information with the public. During the crane collapse in Seattle in 2019, I was the only reporter on my shift. Everything moved quickly and it was all hands on deck. I started working at the Port at the beginning of the pandemic. I went from being well informed about COVID-19 from a news perspective while working at KIRO, to making the transition to apply that knowledge and informing travelers at SEA Airport..
Have a question about travel at SEA? Contact the SEA Airport Customer Care Team:
Check out the other installments in our Frontline Fridays series:
April 8, 2021
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